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Everything you missed at SAP Sapphire 2023

Whether you weren’t able to make SAP Sapphire in Orlando this year or you’re just looking for a recap, I’ve summarized some of the most important topics, concerns, and opportunities based on keynote speeches and conversations I had with other attendees.

AI is just around the corner

More updates and announcements were made at Sapphire regarding the topic everyone in tech has on their mind: artificial intelligence. 

Of course, SAP already has AI embedded in its toolset, but SAP promised that it would be adding generative AI (partly sourced from its partnership with Microsoft) to existing AI capabilities in multiple tools.  

The focus of this at Sapphire was SAP Business AI, which is designed to allow teams across the enterprise to focus on the human-centric work that drives the biggest impact. However, there are also plans this year to make support in S/4HANA more responsive with AI. 

From the conversations I had at the event, people are interested in new AI features, but they want more context and use cases on how AI will be applied to drive business benefits. 

SAP enters the carbon accounting space

Sustainability was another big topic this year. SAP’s “green ledger” is designed to help its customers embed carbon accounting on a transactional level so they can treat carbon accounting like they do financial accounting. 

They can do this in RISE with S/4HANA Cloud and Grow with SAP, but they also announced an update to SAP Sustainability Footprint Manager and the new SAP Sustainability Data Exchange that allows customers to securely exchange carbon-related data with their supply chain. 

I was pleased to see lots of interest in the green ledger and it’s an important step in the right direction. 

New features for S/4HANA, but are ECC customers falling behind?

I calculated at the start of this year that less than a third of current ECC customers are on track to fully migrate to S/4HANA by 2027, and from the conversations I was having at Sapphire, this seems to check out. 

This was contrasted with several announcements for new S/4HANA features made at Sapphire that are designed to help companies better meet the business challenges of the current economic situation. 

I still believe that SAP will be forced to push their end-of-life dates back again. Their customers are facing too many resource issues to accelerate that migration without intervention. However, based on the number of new features being showcased at Sapphire, I believe they’ll wait as long as they can to push that date as they put pressure on as many customers as possible to begin their upgrades

Dual maintenance of ECC and S/4HANA is a headache for CIOs 

For those companies that are currently migrating from ECC to S/4HANA, there is a lot of anxiety around maintaining and synchronizing both systems. 

I was speaking with one SAP customer who was concerned about being responsible for halting innovation for his company (in the face of a possible recession) to work on the migration. Protecting business continuity and making sure transformation projects don’t block innovation is a big concern for the CIOs we met with generally. 

Learn about automated dual maintenance for S/4HANA. 

Firefighting is the biggest blocker to progress 

Ultimately, the announcements that were made at Sapphire lay out some really high value features and software that could give companies the competitive edge needed to navigate a rough economic year. But if IT teams aren’t able to upgrade their systems or implement new ones, those features remain at a distance. 

This was my biggest takeaway from Sapphire 2023. SAP teams are completely overwhelmed by the day-to-day firefighting involved with SAP change. Every time they jump on deck to solve an emergency in their systems that threatens business continuity, they lose time spent on the big transformation projects that would deliver the most benefits to their organization. 

It’s an impossible situation to be in and it’s significantly extending project deadlines and blowing budgets way past their original estimates. So while the application of AI, carbon accounting, and S/4HANA are exciting and critical, there is a lot of work to be done to get the foundation right before being able to innovate further. 

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